The English yew is an evergreen conifer that grows up to 25 feet if left unpruned. Native to Europe, the English yew is planted for ornamental purposes across much of the United States. Yew can be used as a topiary, left untrimmed to grow to tree height, or planted densely to form a hedge. English yew has a thick, reddish-brown trunk, red berries, and deep-green leaves. Although it maintains an attractive shape if left to grow naturally, English yew has a hardy growth habit that responds well to pruning.
Select the proper season for pruning. English yew, like most conifers with random branching habits, responds best to pruning made at the beginning of the spring season. Limit pruning late in the season to very light cuts. This allows the wounds from pruning to be covered quickly by new tissue.
Begin pruning by examining the tree for any wood that may be dead or diseased. Target these sections for removal first.
Put on protective gloves and safety glasses. Remove small branches and shoots with shears or loppers.
Disinfect tools with rubbing alcohol between cuts, and especially between trees, to avoid spreading potentially harmful diseases or fungi.
Prune branches larger than 1 inch in diameter with a pruning saw, using the three-cut technique. Make a cut halfway through the underside of the branch, approximately 6 inches away from the base. Make another cut from the top, a few inches past the first cut. Remove the branch, and cut the stub off at a moderate angle, just above the surface of the bark. This technique allows branches to be removed without injuring the surrounding tissue.
Leave the branch collar intact after pruning cuts, to ensure proper healing. The branch collar is the raised portion of bark around the base of the branch, where it joins the trunk.
Avoid using any sort of wound coating on pruning cuts. They have little effect on wound closure or healing. Let the tree heal its wounds naturally.
Prune back multiple leaders to maintain a strong central trunk. If the leader is damaged, splint one of the highest branches into an upright position to form a new leader. Leave stakes, tape, or wire in place for one season, and remove lateral branches below the new leader.
Always keep hands, arms, and legs out of the path of the blade, and cut in a direction away from the body.
Tips and warnings
- Always keep hands, arms, and legs out of the path of the blade, and cut in a direction away from the body.
- Virginia Cooperative Extension; A Guide to Successful Pruning, Pruning Evergreen Trees; Susan C. French, et al.; May 2009
- University of Florida IFAS Extension; Taxus baccata: English Yew; Edward F. Gilman, et al.; November 1993
- University of Rhode Island Landscape Horticulture Program; Pruning Evergreens
- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; English Yew